By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
A giant of the industry passed away this weekend, the longtime Maxell Corporation of America executive and a 30-year member of the recording media business, Don Patrican.
And when I say “giant,” I am not just referring to his height — he was around 6 feet, 5 inches, or 6 feet, 6 inches tall. My interviews and interactions with Don over the years, seeing him in action at International CES and the old International Tape/Disc Association (ITA) meetings, and the outpouring of respect and love his industry friends and colleagues have expressed in the past few days show what a giving and caring guy he was in his career.
I first met Don in mid-1980s when one of my beats at HFD, now Home Furnishings News, was blank tape. I came over from editing a toy publication and went to Winter and Summer CES to cover the video game business. But I was a novice in covering traditional CE, especially T-120 video and audio cassettes.
Boy, did I get an education about sales, marketing and CE retailing from the top executives in the blank-tape business. And Don was one of my key “professors.”
Back then, blank media was very hot, something that Kmart, Sears and Target — as well as up-and-coming CE chains like Circuit City, Highland and Best Buy — used in their Sunday circulars to get people into their stores.
Don networked — he seemed to know all the major retail executives in every region of the country. He was a member of the board of industry leaders at the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) and of the ITA. And he knew all the key publishers and editors of leading consumer and trade publications.
Don was generous with his time and his expertise with this reporter, but, based on what I’ve heard the past few days, he was also like that with colleagues who worked for him. He’d share his knowledge, complimenting them when they did well and kicking some in the rear end when they failed — something called constructive criticism.
At one of my first ITA meeting, its executive director, the legendary Henry Brief, asked me to do a panel. I hated public speaking, but had the good fortune of having Don as one of several panelists. He made suggestions, and the rest of the guys did too, and slapped me on the back afterward, telling me, “You had nothing to worry about!”
Don did know how to work the press, especially around CES, knowing what deadlines were and making sure we had artwork, and some news along the way. Sure, it was great PR for him, but the stories and the leads for other stories we wrote were immeasurable.
One of my favorite visits with Don was back in 2006 when he and his wife Jeanne were invited to attend the CEA CEO Summit in Bermuda. I covered the meeting and my wife Marion joined me. Those events are usually tough duty: seminars from 8 a.m. to lunch and then we adjourn for golf, tennis, shopping trips, etc., and then back to the hotel for a formal dinner.
Don was in his element. He was in his second stint with Maxell — Don also worked for Memorex and Polaroid — and knew just about everyone there.
At one of the seminars, one of the speakers decided to create some audience discussion on retail sales and marketing. We were told to answer three questions as a group, and everyone was split up by table. I was at a table with Don, Brad Anderson, then-CEO of Best Buy, and a couple of manufacturing execs.
Needless to say, Don took control immediately, leading the discussion, asking questions and listening to other opinions while one of us took notes. I mumbled a couple of points, and Brad smiled and said more than a couple of times, “I completely agree with Don.”
Don was always enthusiastic about the CE industry. In TWICE’s 20th anniversary issue, we quoted him talking about the industry and about CES. He said, “Every CES I feel the same way, pumped up with enthusiasm and mesmerized by the excitement it brings. It is the Super Bowl of our industry, but unlike the NFL players, we get to go every year.”
That’s vintage Patrican. So is the following: What do you say to someone when you know you are going to die?
Don reached out to a few people in the industry to say goodbye, and I was one of the lucky ones he contacted. He left me two voicemails one evening at the office, and luckily I did speak with him one last time the next day.
Here is part of that phone message to me that was also vintage Patrican: “Thank you for everything you and TWICE have done for me over the years. Good luck to the industry, good luck to you.”
My good fortune was meeting a guy like Don Patrican. TWICE’s sincere condolences go out to his wife Jeanne, his son Julian, and all of his family and friends who will miss him terribly.
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